She screamed. It was high-pitched and eardrum-shattering, piercing through all the layers wrapped tightly and protectively around that last bastion of religiosity within her. They unwillingly peeled back in a bloody mess of rent tissue, unable to mend again as he jerked a little, possibly wincing in response to her dramatics. I’d just returned home from the lab, my hand still clasping the shiny brass doorknob as I stiffened. Noting Cheryl’s relative location by the sound, I knew that she’d just seen him. Honestly I’d half expected a call sometime during the day, but she’d apparently been remiss in her regularly scheduled tidying efforts.
I shut the door with a neat click and conducted myself toward the home office, not bothering to set my things down. I was a lanky, slender man, and thus by lengthening my stride I was able to traverse the distance expeditiously whilst remaining poised. Panic is, after all, for the faint of heart and the thick-witted. If I entered the room too rapidly I would startle Cheryl. I was wholly sanguine, though the anticipated caviling would detain me from reviewing the documents I’d intended for mental consumption that evening. My jaw clenched slightly as I pushed my glasses straight up to my sinuses, inhaling a slow, deep breath before slipping through the cracked door to meet my hysteric wife. She flinched and let out a shorter, quieter yelp upon seeing me, placing a hand to her chest. Her face was white and her heart pounded visibly in her ribcage. She backed away from my ancient wooden desk and its occupant.
“John…WHAT is that—that THING?” she demanded in a half-terrified, half-authoritative fashion. I looked at her coolly for a moment before walking over to the desk and making a show of casually setting my briefcase down with a gentle thunk. He jumped in the pitiful manner of his kind: impotently and clumsily on a multitude of meaty legs with little support structure, slipping and bumping the sidewalls of his diminutive glass container. It would take him the better part of an hour of struggle before he would have righted his posture.
“A genetically engineered food product.” I responded indifferently, pausing to allow the information to process before proceeding. “He didn’t like the screaming. He can’t hear it, but the vibrations upset him. It will take him awhile to get back up.” I finished invectively as I casually gestured to him, my steel blue eyes shifting to meet Cheryl’s. The corners of my mouth tugged down slightly in a show of disapproval. Her eyes widened in recognition of what I’d said, and she looked at the struggling, tube-fed, eyeless mass of flesh whilst her face rapidly shifted to a sickly shade of green. The hand over her heart moved up to her mouth, and all at once her cheeks puffed and she doubled over with an explosive cough as her innards violently protested against the sensory information she’d just received. She’d imagined eating him, you see.
She rushed out of the room and down the hall as fast as she could, presumably toward the bathroom. I wasn’t inclined to follow in either case, as it would only serve to further delay my work and result in a cycle of unpleasantries. I paused momentarily to consider whether I should shut the door, but ultimately opted to leave it open just in case she recovered and wanted to talk. This did not have the intended effect however, as rather than an invitation to my wife it was a beacon to my son. A scant few minutes after I’d withdrawn my papers and picked up my .5mm ballpoint pen, I heard him shuffling down the hallway.
“Dad?” came the little voice from the door. I exhaled slowly, gingerly setting the pen down and turning to face my progeny.
“What’s wrong with Mom?”
“She doesn’t like what I made.” I think he was eight, but I couldn’t be sure. I could barely remember numbers or names unless they directly related to my work. Furthermore, I existed in a separate reality surrounded by a layer of fog which partitioned me off from the rest of the world. He took a few steps into the room, redirecting his curious gaze to the belabored, pitiful mass of ambulatory meat on my desk.
“You made that?” he inquired, rapidly-growing awe infiltrating his high-toned utterance. He drew closer like a moth to flame, eyes affixed on the creature. He evidenced no fear or pity, unlike his horrified mother. I felt a slight stirring within me. It was perhaps a roving paternal hormone unearthing itself. I said nothing, merely inclining my head in acknowledgement. I’d discerned that children often exclaimed useless pronouncements, yet Darren peered at my genetic contrivance in silence. I found his company preferable to Cheryl’s, though I rarely interacted with either of them. A few minutes passed with no further exchange, and thus I turned back to my work as the boy looked on. I thought that I might pass the evening in a surprisingly peaceful manner, yet it was just as I’d entertained the notion that Cheryl’s shadow crossed the path of the hallway’s warm light.
“Darren, come here please.” She said in a shaky, disturbed manner that she rather unsuccessfully attempted to mask. Through my peripheral vision I noted that he turned towards me, seeking absolution which I did not give. He then sighed and turned, walking obediently to the door. “I don’t want you to come into your father’s office.”
“Because of his creation?” She hesitated at Darren’s direct inquiry. She’d prepared for him to dispute the point, but hadn’t anticipated this. She audibly exhaled through her nose.
“Yes, because of that. You aren’t allowed in here, okay?” I looked up just in time to see him walk past her down the hall. He didn’t protest per se, but his response chilled Cheryl to the bone.
“Okay. But remember that he’s like my brother because Dad made him.”
She froze in place, leaning against the doorframe with her arms wrapped about herself. Her skin pricked up into gooseflesh as she looked over at me. Rather surprisingly, Darren’s “sibling” righted himself with a final heaving thrust against the glass wall of his confines considerably faster than I’d ever previously noted.
Fred. His name was Fred.